htc one mini hands on review 13 640x425It is official, the HTC One mini is now in the spotlight and after more than one month of speculations and anticipation by HTC fans, the company has unveiled all the details about this more compact, and more affordable version of its leading phone, the HTC One. The concept is simple, but the challenge was equally great: how do you make a less expensive version of a smartphone that is often named as “the reference” in terms of build quality, without compromising the very properties that made its reputation to start with?

Industrial design

This was a risky move, but HTC pulled it off: when you hold the HTC One mini in your hand, it immediately feels like a smaller version of the HTC One. It is a little bit thinner too, and users will be able to feel that right away.

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Top: HTC One, bottom: One mini

Upon a closer inspection, there are real differences in how the HTC One mini is built. The most obvious changes are 1/ the rim is now made entirely of polycarbonate while the One has a very hard-to-make aluminum and glass finish at the top and bottom 2/ The volume rocker has gone from being a single piece to a two-button element.

Using an all polycarbonate rim is a very smart move, because although the new rim does save a lot of time from the 200 minutes that it originally took to put together a One, it is also a detail that people rarely look at. And since the front and the back of the HTC mini look nearly identical to the One, I would say that HTC has been able to achieve 92% of the “premium” feel (just throwing a number out there), while significantly cutting down on the resources that it takes to build the product. Nicely done.

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The black version looks great too. Tough choice.

Display (4.3”, 720p)

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This 4.3” smartphone has been given a 720p resolution which translates into a pixel density of 341 PPI (pixel per inch) which is excellent. Just like the HTC One, it uses the Super LCD 3 technology and for all practical purposes it looked very similar, if not identical, to my full size HTC One in terms of color, brightness and contrast. I did not have the opportunity to try it outdoors in direct sunlight, but we will get back to that during our full review next week. To make a long story short, the display is excellent.

Software (Android 4.2.2 + HTC Sense 5)

With Android 4.2.2, the HTC One mini comes with the latest that both Google and HTC have to offer in terms of software. When the update came to the One, it brought a number of improvements including improved notifications with actionable user interface (UI), Instagram support in BlinkFeed, swipe-activated Google Now, better widget support for lock screen and better camera utilities.

The HTC One mini will have all these improvements from day one, and there’s a good chance that it will get future updates as fast as the One did – let’s cross our fingers.

HTC Ultrapixel Camera, HTC Zoe

The camera experience was a key part in the overall attractiveness of the One, so HTC has put a lot of efforts to reproduce that “feel”, but at the same time, it had to optimize the cost of the product, so if you compare the specs on both devices, you will notice that the HTC Ultrapixel sensor is still there, but there are a few differences worth noting:

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First, there is no optical image stabilization. This is most useful for high-speed photo capture, or low-light photography since it allows the shutter speed to be a bit lower, thus capturing more light. That seems to be the main difference for the rear camera and I don’t expect it to affect daylight photography much. It’s not completely clear what the impact is going to be on low-light photography. We will need a bit more time before we can provide a definitive answer.

Secondly, the front camera is now a 1.6 Megapixel camera, from 2.1MP with wide angle and HDR on the One. This is a relatively important difference, and we will run some controlled tests to see what the impact is when it comes to video-chat in low-light.

All the software features seem to be there, and the overall camera controls look pretty much the same, so it’s mostly hardware changes. The Zoe app that gathers photo and videos into a neat-looking album is still there and works just like it does on the One.

System Performance

The HTC One mini is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 at 1.4GHz, which is quite different from the One’s Snapdragon S600 quad-core system on chip (aka SoC). It’s completely legitimate to wonder what kind of difference in performance will result from that. We didn’t (yet) have the time to run our usual set of benchmarks on the HTC One mini, but we can take come clues from another phone equipped with a similar Snapdragon 400 system: the Galaxy Mega 6.3.

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The HTC One mini performance should be comparable to the Mega 6.3

In our in-depth review of that smartphone, we learned two things: 1/ the difference in performance did not change the perceived performance of the user interface and for the apps that don’t require a massive amount of computing (that’s the overwhelming majority). 2/ Video game performance (in FPS) is comparable to the higher-end 1080p smartphones because raw graphics power is offset by the lower number of pixels that the graphics processor has to manage since this is a 720p resolution (vs. 1080p). Games simply run at a comparable speed.

The end-result is that most users won’t feel any noticeable difference when using their phones, even if there can be a real difference in terms of graphics sharpness. Those who really want to play games at the best settings, or edit videos should opt for an HTC One, or another high-end smartphone.

Conclusion (looking good!)

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The goal of the HTC One mini is to bring the high-end user experience of the original HTC One to a much larger market. This is never easy to do this, but I’ve been impressed by how HTC managed to optimize the cost structure, without proportionally altering the original experience. This is the result of a carefully planned extension of the HTC One line of product and overall, it works.

We are going to work on a more exhaustive review, but so far, the HTC One mini is looking very good, and we expect the target audience to be pleased. When HTC will reveal the pricing of the mini, we will be able to provide a final judgment on its added-value as well.

In the meantime, I really recommend reading our HTC One review, since it will give you a very close idea of how it feels to use the HTC One mini.

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews . Tags: Android, HTC and HTC One mini.
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